If your child is a selective eater, has a poor appetite, is a vegetarian, or follows any other type of special diet, you may have wondered if he or she should take a daily vitamin/mineral supplement.
You may have wondered about this even if your child is a fairly “normal” eater. Some time ago, I asked this same question myself, so I did some research to see what the latest evidence suggests.
The short answer to this question is, no, most children who are growing normally do not need a vitamin/mineral supplement. Don’t let fancy advertising or cartoon characters on supplement containers make you believe anything different!
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, because children’s bodies need only tiny amounts of these nutrients, even children who are considered “picky” eaters most often obtain what they need — and likely more than you think — from the foods they eat. In fact, most common foods, such as milk, are fortified with vitamins A and D, and breakfast cereals are fortified with B vitamins and iron. Plus, because kid-sized portions are small. They do not need a lot of food to meet their nutrient needs.
It’s also important to consider that over-the-counter vitamin/mineral supplements aren’t without risks. They are not regulated by the FDA, and if taken in excessive amounts, can be toxic — particularly the fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E & K).
When Might Supplements Be Helpful?
Talk with your child’s pediatrician if you’re concerned about your child meeting his or her nutrient recommendations. A supplement may be helpful if your child has significant food allergies, eats a vegan or other restrictive diet, or has certain chronic medical conditions.
If My Child Does Need Them, How Do I Choose?
If you do decide on a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement for your child, do so with careful consideration, and talk with your pediatrician first. Be sure to choose a brand that is age-appropriate, and that does not provide more than 100 percent of the Daily Value of vitamins and minerals. You might also look for a brand that has the initials “USP” on the label. This stands for U.S. Pharmacopeia and indicates that the manufacturer is complying with good manufacturing practices, product safety, and proper labeling. This also verifies that the product has been tested for purity.
Make it clear to your child that vitamins are not candy, and always keep them out of reach.
The Bottom Line
If your child is healthy, growing normally, and eating a fair variety of foods, it is most likely that he or she does not need a supplement. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics promote whole, fresh foods as the number one way for children (and adults) to meet their nutrient needs, not chewable tablets laced with sugar and coloring.
Anne Marie Kuchera, one of our Kids Plus Nutrition Consultants, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Dietitian.